The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “Chelsea look down from the top of their qualifying group having reverted to victorious ways after the trauma of Wigan, though that is not to suggest all is rosy with them once again. Carlo Ancelotti prowled his technical area virtually throughout this contest against a depleted and unfancied Apoel Nicosia, his frustration at his side’s early wastefulness transformed into genuine anxiety before the end.”
Daily Telegraph, Jason Burt: “Chelsea are dominating Group D without Didi. Or, at least, according to the table they are. Once again they, just about, coped with the loss of Didier Drogba, to suspension, with Nicolas Anelka, so long in the shadows of the powerful, talismanic striker stepping up to the plate to score a decisive goal.”
The Times, Matt Hughes: “Nicolas Anelka shrugged off the absence of his strike partner as the London club returned unconvincingly to winning ways in Nicosia last night, leaving Drogba fresh for the greater challenge against Liverpool on Sunday, when they will have to improve to avoid a second successive Barclays Premier League defeat.”
The Independent, Glenn Moore: “Angry though he was at Chelsea’s performance, Carlo Ancelotti reflected, as he pondered his old club Milan’s home defeat to FC Zurich last night, that there are worse things than playing badly and winning. “I’m sad, but it shows there are no easy games in the Champions League,” he said. However, this tepid performance, coming after Saturday’s surrender at Wigan, has worried him, especially with Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Nicolas Anelka’s goals continue to drive Chelsea on in the Champions League but the performance was not one to remove concerns after the defeat at Wigan.”
Well what a week we’ve had. Sitting here listening to Glenn “Please let me promote my academy” Hoddle and one of the worst presenters on TV, one Richard Keys, discussing the plight of Chelsea, you’d think something disastrous had happened in the past seven days.
At the start of it, everything seemed to be going swimmingly. We’d scraped a 1-0 win against QPR and despite the boring, watching paint-dry nature of the game, the headlines were dominated by the introduction of some kids from our £62m academy. Frank Arnesen must have been beaming as he saw all one (yep, just one) of his youth products given a run out with Fabio Borini looking lively and eager as he scampered about upfront on his own. He certainly showed potential and it would be harsh to judge him on one game but I’m going to anyway and personally I don’t think he’ll make it. Why? Well he just isn’t special enough and at 18 (I think he’s 18 but some have said 17 and even Sky Sports said 20 on the night so who knows?) you should already have the talent to warrant a first team place and I just don’t think Borini has. It’s ridiculous and virtually impossible to expect instead of hope for our academy to produce the next Rooney, Messi or Pato but in order to regularly feature for Chelsea at that age you have to be of that standard in my opinion. It’s much easier for a defensive player to come through the ranks at Chelsea (well it’s a 100% record so far for the academy’s defenders with only John Terry making it) and that’s why I was more impressed by Sam Hutchinson’s outing. He may be recovering from a couple of knee operations but he looks like a great prospect and certainly a lot more comfortable than Mr. Mancienne who is rapidly turning into the next Titus Bramble.
Anyway, after that QPR win we all travelled up to Wigan hoping to make it seven wins out of seven, thereby retaining our six point lead over Liverpool ahead of this Sunday’s showdown. However, something didn’t really feel right about the day. We all knew that Liverpool would thump Hull and that United would inevitably find a way past Stoke and therefore only a win would do but trips to the JJB, oops DW, Stadium have always proved tricky and last Saturday would be no different. Whether it was the presence of Mikel (my new pet hate), some lazy performances from our French duo of Malouda and Anelka or complacency, we never looked like winning that game. Didier described it as “the worst game he’s played in at Chelsea” and both JT and Carlo brought out the hairdryer after our embarrassing 3-1 defeat. The fallout however has been predictable. Some have been asking whether Carlo is merely the new Scolari; the answer’s no, whilst others have rapidly backtracked from calling us title favourites to being an ageing and tired squad who are perhaps past it (that’s the gist of what Glenn was jabbering on about tonight). In the end it was a defeat the team needed. Chelsea love to get ahead of themselves (we’ll soon hear a first team player talking of the quad with a few more wins) and our lazy, sloppy starts had to be punished by someone. Even a defeat to Liverpool (we won’t lose but Rafa is an evil genius in most Chelsea-Liverpool games) won’t weaken my belief that Carlo is the best manager we’ve had since Jose (I know that’s not exactly the best of endorsements but you get what I mean).
Cech; Ivanovic, Ricky, JT, Cole; Kalou, Essien, Belletti, Lamps, Malouda; Anelka.
Subs: Hilario, Joe, Zhirkov, Deco, Hutchinson, Bruma, Sturridge.
It kind of picked itself really. With Didier and Bosingwa still suspended, Mikel and Ballack injured and Deco and Joe both still coming back from injuries the only question marks surrounded whether Ashley would be fit and if we should risk giving Hilario some practice before Sunday.
Sturridge Watch: No, your eyes are not deceiving you. After being given a whopping seven minutes after 10 games, he’s finally got back to the bench.
After a couple of minutes of the match it was clear that Nicosia were a very poor side who should be easily swept aside by a world-class outfit like Chelsea. Well on normal occasions I would expect us to clinically dispatch a plucky yet limited side such as Nicosia but tonight didn’t seem very normal. For the first 15 minutes we lined up in a very orthodox 4-4-1-1, with Carlo making sure we didn’t concede an early goal as we did against Wigan. Not much was happening as we let Nicosia knock the ball around their own half but then we decided to rise from our usual slumber (that annoying habit seems impossible to drop) as Frank fed Ivaonvic who quickly released Belletti down the right hand side. He cleverly cut the ball back for Anelka to finish brilliantly from the edge of the box. It was a crucial goal as it was clear that we were very nervous and seemed afraid to take any risks, fearing the wrath of Carlo should anything go wrong. But the goal settled our nerves and we started to pass the ball more confidently and quickly. Both Ashley and Ivanovic were getting forward more regularly and Anelka was displaying great movement upfront but we weren’t creating too many chances. Apart from an Ashley header and a few long shots from Essien and Frank, we hardly threatened and the half ended rather timidly.
However, the second half would be a very different affair. In the first half we may have controlled the game and posed little threat but in the second we were on the verge of losing control of the match and still offered little upfront. Frankly, we were awful. We struggled to keep hold of the ball for more than a few seconds and only after Deco came on did we begin to play any sort of attacking football. I don’t know if it was nerves as we desperately tried to secure the win we needed to build confidence ahead of the Liverpool game but as the final whistle edged ever nearer, we retreated deeper and deeper and seemed to forget that it was only Nicosia and if we just passed the ball, we would inevitably create more chances. In the last 15 minutes we did begin to do that, partly thanks to Deco, and despite Frank missing three clear chances, it was heartening to at least see us in their half. But in the end we scrambled through and left with the crucial three points we needed to give us a buffer at the top of the table before Madrid’s visit.
- The win – It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t like the comfortable 1-0 wins of the Jose era but it was a crucial win, which was much needed. It’s strange how fragile this squad appears to be and despite my huge confidence in Carlo, I fear the consequences of a defeat on Sunday. It won’t end or even ruin our title chances but after the Scolari nightmare, we need to build up some momentum before the next international break and beyond then, the packed Christmas period if we are to win the big trophies this year.
- Ashley, Petr and Essien – Our three best performers on the night and without them we would have been on the end of an embarrassing result. I’m already dreading Hilario’s latest Superman impression on Sunday as Petr was exemplary at collecting crosses.
- Deco – I can’t believe that I’m saying this but he’s gone from a dud to a crucial cog in our winning machine. He understands perfectly how to play the number 10 position and if fully fit I’d pick him against Liverpool. He gives control and class to our midfield when Ballack is absent and also allows Frank to get on the ball more regularly in a deeper position. It’s no coincidence that both the team and Frank performed better after Deco’s introduction.
- Anelka (first half) – Full of movement and a great finish for our goal. Displays such as these remind me why some people rate him so highly but…
- Anelka (second half) – …then we get a display like this. Offered absolutely nothing and his attitude began to piss me off. Whenever our midfield failed to find him he threw his arms in the air and turned around in disgust. And then when he gave the ball away (quite regularly) he again blamed it on others. I distinctly remember him failing to find Ashley with a one-two on the half way line and then he threw his arms up, shrugged and stopped as Ashley sprinted back to stop their attack. Le Sulk indeed.
- Malouda and Belletti – Poor. Both failed to grasp the revolutionary idea that as wide men they should track back. I can sort of excuse Belletti as he provided a great assist and didn’t look match fit but Malouda’s form is worrying. He’s certainly not the player of the Guus era and his awful distribution and lazy attitude annoyed me. Ashley was left on his own throughout the game and at times you could see Malouda walking back after another failed Chelsea attack. A fit Zhirkov or Joe Cole should take his place at the moment.
- Ricky – A disastrous display which was verging on embarrassing at some points in the second half. His distribution was more than a liability and three times in the second half he simply hoofed the ball to a Nicosia midfielder who would then launch a new attack on our goal. At times Essien had to drop so deep to protect him that we were playing with five at the back. A worrying dip in form and soon Ivanovic should be given a chance to succeed him.
- Ball retention – Was there any in the second half? If we play like that on Sunday we’ll get murdered by a dangerous Liverpool side looking to bounce back from a defeat in Italy.
- Cech – 7/10 – Didn’t have too much to do but he claimed crosses well and relieved the growing pressure on our defence.
- Ivanovic – 7/10 – Very solid. His footwear and strange penchant for slipping over was a little worrying but he’s young, quick and hard as nails so is an ideal partner for John at some point this season.
- Terry – 7/10 – Not happy in the second half with our shocking ball retention but when not barking out orders he was very steady.
- Carvalho – 3/10 – A disaster. Slow, out of position and awful distribution from defence. He really is beginning to worry me.
- A. Cole – 8/10 – A great performance despite clearly not being fully fit. Can’t really imagine a Chelsea team without him now.
- Essien – 8/10 – Awesome. He carried our midfield at times and shows how a modern midfielder should play – with pace, power and control. Mikel has a lot to learn.
- Lampard – 6/10 – Improved greatly alongside Deco but is strangely off form. Missed three typical Frank chances and just needs a goal to break this barren run.
- Belletti – 6/10 – A great assist but did little else. His positional play and tackling is strangely pathetic for a Champions League winning right-back.
- Malouda – 5/10 – As I mentioned earlier, his form is rapidly tailing off and only retains a place in the side thanks to last season’s form and injuries to Deco, Joe and Zhirkov. Out of a fit set of attacking midfielders (Malouda, Joe, Zhirkov, Deco, Kalou, Ballack) which two would you pick to partner Frank and Essien in midfield? At the moment it would be Ballack and Deco.
- Kalou – 5/10 – Don’t think he touched the ball. Tell me if you remember him doing anything as I don’t.
- Anelka – 7/10 – A great goal and first-half but his second half performance and especially attitude was awful.
Man of the Match
Again I give it to Ashley. He’s putting in some great performances at present and will rival Didier and Frank (he’s always there) for player of the year.
A win’s a win and after years of Jose led success being built on 1-0 victories, this kind of performance reminded us all that Chelsea still know how to win ugly. It was at times very poor viewing but I don’t really care. We needed to bounce back after the Wigan debacle and in some ways this type of win was more beneficial than any 4 or 5-0 stroll. Complacency and perhaps injuries are all that stands between us and great success this year and if it takes months worth of 1-0’s to get there, then I for one won’t be complaining. We’ve got a great manager and great players but at times our attitude can let us down. We got away with it until the Wigan game but tonight was just what we needed before Sunday.